Mr. Speaker, it is with great interest that I rise to speak to Bill C-52. For at least a year and a half, the Bloc Québécois has asked the minister to reinforce its hazardous products safety requirements in order to ban the production, promotion and marketing of any product that could present an unacceptable danger to health.
We are not only talking about health, or about situations where people get sick all of a sudden; we are also talking about long term effects, and that is what is pernicious. The legislation should be able to find a way to trace poisoning cases back on a long-term basis. I would even go as far as to say that the legislation should be able to trace back mental health problems that people could have developed after contact with certain products. This information is not always easy to find. This is why we would like to improve this bill because some of its provisions seem somewhat simplistic.
Obviously, we realize that this bill comes along after the legislation the Americans just passed. When the United States passes a law, Canada finally decides to legislate on the matter.
The government has known since 2006, since the Auditor General's report, that the legislation did not properly protect the public. This is not something new, and my colleague pointed that out earlier. I am emphasizing this because they would have us believe that they just realized that the public needs to be protected. The Bloc Québécois has been calling for this for a long time now.
We would also like Ottawa to give manufacturers the burden of inspecting products and demonstrating that they will not compromise consumer health and safety. I am talking about imported products, because the discussion with the hon. member for Malpeque earlier was very interesting. He was saying that Canadians are not asked to do inspections or pay for them because they would no longer be competitive.
However, when it comes to products imported from Asian countries—China and India in particular—producers of those products, and not the government, should have to prove that their product is acceptable. I am all for the government paying for the inspectors, but it should not have to pay for the tests to protect the public.
We know that some products are entering the Canadian market. These are products we have not had the privilege of consuming before because they came from abroad. I am thinking of commercial and residential paints in particular. Apparently, there is a whole movement by companies who are getting ready to import paint. Certain paint can be very harmful to one's health. Here in Canada, we have taken very important measures with respect to VOCs, volatile organic compounds, and also with respect to all the products that bind paints.
Naturally this makes paint more expensive. Therefore, if we produce paint here that respects our standards, foreign paint also has to respect our standards.
Will we protect people from this paint before it ends up our shelves, or will we do so once the paint has ended up on our shelves and people have proof that this paint is dangerous?
In my opinion, Bill C-52 should be clear enough on the fact that the imported products must be proven to be suitable and compliant with our health standards.
These health standards are not always very high in Canada. I am thinking in particular of lead and radiation coming from radioactive materials. Our standards, which are not very high, are not even being met. As was said earlier, standards are high in agriculture, but for other products, they are not. Therefore, we should review the quality of our standards.
I would stress that what I want to know is if we should let the products come in and then, determine whether they are acceptable or not, or if we should stop them from entering the country.
In Japan, a very well organized country, inspectors are sent to the point of origin of the product. If the product does not meet the Japanese standards, it does not leave the port and is not even taken aboard the ship. It is very important to understand that it is much easier to have inspectors applying our standards in foreign countries than to let the goods come in and then make sure they are properly inspected. Yet, presently this is how inspections are carried out: we let meat, vegetables and fruits come in.
I used to know someone at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Sometimes, it is difficult to inspect a large quantity of vegetables or meat once it has arrived, because these products are distributed very quickly across Canada, even before inspectors have time to see them.
It would be much easier to use a system similar to the Japanese one, that is to inspect, approve and seal the products, and then let them enter the country. This method would ensure that the products arriving in Canada meet the standards. If we fail to do this, there is a much greater risk that unacceptable products could be distributed across the country.
So, it is important that we improve this bill. It is also important that we preserve the spirit of the law at its highest degree of effectiveness. This means that we should not simply think about having more inspectors to implement the legislation. The implementation of the act is just one step in the process. Afterwards, we must have more inspectors to preserve the legislation's high degree of effectiveness. Sending inspectors abroad, at the departure point of the products, could significantly help maintain the high effectiveness of Bill C-52, which is currently before us.
There is a similar problem with pesticides. It was mentioned earlier. My riding produces a lot of apples, but it is not the only one. It is also the case for the ridings of other NDP members. Currently, the United States is sending us a lot of its apples, because its producers use organic pesticides that are accepted by Canada, as long as they are mentioned on the apples, and these pesticides are cheaper than the ones that we use here. However, the pesticides used in the United States and accepted once they are mentioned on the apples are not approved here in Canada as pesticides that can be used by apple growers.
So, we should not think that Bill C-52 alone will ensure a very high degree of safety and competitiveness. It is absolutely necessary that our producers be on a level playing field with producers abroad who export their products here. So, this issue will have to be examined very carefully. The legislation will have to make a distinction between imported and local products.
A cosmetic—cosmetics are indeed included in the bill—made in Canada must be inspected before it is put on the shelves. However, we cannot wait until production is completed. On the other hand, if that product comes from abroad, production will be completed. That is why I am insisting that we must absolutely inspect products on the premises, before they are shipped.
Bill C-52 includes safety requirements for dangerous products. It almost prohibits manufacturing some of them. I talked about importing, but there is also the selling, advertising, labelling and packaging of consumer products. Of course this impacts on labelling costs, which will be very significant, but we will know whether the product is imported, or manufactured here.
The 51% we were talking about earlier may no longer apply. Apparently, the packaging for Van Houtte coffees—not that I am naming names—constitutes 51%. It says “Made in Canada”, but it is coffee. As far as I know, Canada does not produce coffee, but because packaging represents 51% of the price of the coffee, it says “Made in Canada”. If people can put “Made in Canada” on products that are mostly made elsewhere, we will never be able to implement Bill C-52 because its priority is ensuring that imported products comply with Canadian standards. There is some work to be done on this bill. I am sure that the members who are going to be working on this in committee will come up with a special label to identify imported products and Canadian-made products more clearly.
Naturally, nobody believes that recalls are the solution. As I was saying earlier, it has to happen before the products even get here. The system has been too lenient. When toys were found to be dangerous, they were recalled. But they had already made it to the market. People had bought them and taken them home. Bill C-52 simply has to make it impossible for such items or materials to be distributed.
I would like to revisit my paint example. It will be difficult to determine whether four litres of paint—which is still known as a gallon—is imported or not, especially if the packaging is made here and is a well-known brand. Right now, Sico, a Quebec-based company, has to comply with American standards on volatile organic compounds before its products leave Quebec. I think that Bill C-52 should demand exactly the same thing of products being imported here.
We are talking about consumer products, particularly things as unusual and varied as cribs, tents and carpets. They are currently allowed to enter with no standards in place. There are no standards for tents. Does everyone know that there are no standards for tents, apart from flammability? Someone could suffocate in a tent. A tent could fall on top of you. They pose all sorts of dangers, but we are not protected by legislation. When it comes to products of this nature, all standards should be stricter and show greater concern for users.
The same is true for carpets. There are very few standards concerning carpets. Manufacturers are allowed to use nearly any chemical to prevent dust from settling or to preserve the colour. These are some of the products people breathe in unawares, when they are sitting at home, watching television. People can gradually develop illnesses that are hard to diagnose but that result from products made from just about anything, because of this laxity.
I am using carpets as an example, but I could also be talking about certain kinds of flooring that are currently being imported, such as plastic flooring. One rule of thumb nearly always holds true: when a product has a strong odour, it is toxic to some extent. Pick up the plastic flooring that is imported and sold in stores. If it was subjected to rigorous tests, it would be refused because it is toxic.
Thus, this would cover a wide range of products. Consider, for example, batteries used in toys or flashlights. We received some in Canada that exploded.
Such a battery exploding can burn the eyes of a child with the chemical products it contains and greatly affect not only the physical health but also the mental health of that child.
In fact, adults would react the same way. Recently, people bought imported rifles—always from the same country—and at the first, fourth or fifth shot, the rifles blew up. One can imagine the trauma for a person not used to handling firearms.
This bill is therefore very broad in scope and must be based on standards which will have to be stricter than the present ones.
The bill also deals with protection against the radiation coming from clinical or consumer products, such as X-rays or laser beams. As incredible as it may seem, cheap watches are still imported with dials emitting dangerous radioactivity. Even some cars from Asia have luminous dials which emit radiation harmful to human health. They can cause cancer. It can be particularly damaging for taxi drivers whose car is be equipped with such a dial, since they are always exposed to it.
This is harmful and it will be difficult to control. A little test upon entry into the country will not suffice. People will have to perform many more tests. Our standards will have to apply to everything produced outside of the country and they will often have to be made stricter.
We are not the first to adopt such legislation. Earlier I spoke about Japan, a country that is more advanced than ours in terms of domestic standards for all goods purchased from other countries.
As I mentioned before, the United States has just adopted regulations, in cooperation with the Consumer Product Safety Commission, that respond to the serious problems caused by these products. It is a veritable plague given that the U.S. imports 80%—if not more—of its toys, as does Canada. Dangerous toys are becoming a plague. On Radio-Canada, I heard some people talking about whether it was possible to find toys made in Canada. The woman answered no, that she had none in her store even though she carries a large selection of toys.
Europe is also addressing this issue. It will be important for the committee to look at what is being done in Japan. It is easier to see what is happening in the United States because we are much closer. However, what about Europe? The EU has proposed making standards more stringent and lowering allowable limits for other substances such as lead and mercury. It has prohibited about forty allergenic perfumes, perfumes not made of natural essences. We permit higher levels of lead and mercury in our products than Europe does. Europe has taken a stand and we should follow suit soon.
I would like the precautionary principle to apply to Bill C-52 and to truly serve as our guide to improving it. At the same time, we should examine our standards, which are sometimes lacking. We absolutely have to do this if we wish to protect all our citizens. Neo-liberal globalization is a new phenomenon that we did not have to reckon with previously.
We are proud to participate in this bill and we hope to be truly able to provide more money and more locations for inspectors to do a good job.